Live to Work or Work to Live? The new employment contract

Any conversation with a business leader invariably leads to the usual talk of “no one wants to work hard anymore.” It is true that we are in a tight labour market and finding good employees is a very hard task, but things will not get better by painting everything black.

It is a normal occurrence that businesses today seek to employ hungry and ambitious employees who will do what it takes to succeed. Instead many times businesses are faced with new employees that come in negotiating like seasoned executives, leaving managers flabbergasted. Employee expectations are very high and are likely to remain so. Add to that the fact that various employers are emphasising flexibility and other benefits.

Within all this I see many businesses still grasping for more control to get back to “normal” by pushing for longer hours in the office, tightening metrics and hoping that economic headwinds will eliminate the present tight labour market. I feel it’s like one hoping to win the lottery.

In essence I believe that fundamentally human nature hasn’t changed. People want to be engaged at work and feel passionate about their working life — liking what they do and how they do it.

What has changed is that what creates that passion has broadened and deepened. People no longer see a singular pursuit of a corporate goal i.e. better financial performance, in a bustling office, as the only way to a purposeful career. Business leaders need to catch up on this mindset . If they do not do so, they’ll be operating frustratingly with quiet-quitters and high employee turnover levels.

This mindset has accelerated even further due to the pandemic. Research shows that employees want a more “human value proposition,” – which means that the pandemic made employees rethink the role that work should have in their lives. For all of our talk for decades about work-life balance, people seem to be now feeling it, in their bones, what that means. The big question has shifted from “How does life fit into work?” to “How does work fit into life?”. Business leaders resisting this trend are bound to end up as net losers.

I see this trend and mindset in action every day. I see employers pushing further while new employees start establishing boundaries for what would make the job sustainable for them and plotting when to exit if the company wouldn’t comply. I run many different training sessions in various business. When I ask employees what is positive with regards them working in the company, few if any respond on projects coming to fruition or goals to be achieved. The vast majority reply in the context of personal advantages or their well-being.

The employment contract has fundamentally changed for the new generation of workers. They want autonomy over where and when they work. If leaders want to attract and retain the best talent — those who are passionate and infuse that passion into the workplace — then business leaders should broaden and expand their views of how to go about things. Below are some insights.

  • Doing things the hard way is not necessarily the only and the best way. For many my age and beyond, born in the 1970s or 1980s, doing work had a very prescribed way of going about it. You wake up early, give up large parts of your life and eventually gain some control over your time or what’s left of it. I however see many business leaders of my era who fall in the common mistake that everyone has now to “suffer” the hard way we did and that everyone should pay their dues the same way. Consider, though, that was before new technologies and norms that allow other options came to be. Yes, we had to go about work that way, but was it really the best way to get good work done?
  • Disconnect performance from time: Many business leaders express ongoing frustration about not knowing how much their hybrid or remote teams are working. The truth is that business leaders can never know how much their employees are working. Employees can waste a lot of time in the office right under your nose and if they want to waste time, they’ll do it anywhere. So I encourage business leaders to measure performance and lose the fixation with time. As employees want control over how they work, they in return need to carry the responsibility of having to deliver results. That’s the basis of the new employment contract. Imagine the benefits if that was simply agreed upon openly.
  • Don’t tighten the screws, loosen them: Faced by all this change, many business leaders feel that control is slipping away. So they react by wanting to micromanage people and processes. The result is the opposite. People feel demotivated and not trusted. The best employees will leave. Fear has never been an effective motivator over the long term, with negative emotions compounding. Worrying about job preservation causes people to back down and lower their productivity rather than take risks toward excellence.

As we all know, people are most productive when they feel motivated about what they do and how they live. Now, more than ever before, people are emphasising the need to have both. Even if the economy falls into a recession, I still believe that this mindset and notion of work will remain. More importantly than that, I am firm believer that when companies give employees more autonomy, with clear performance targets, the end result is better for everyone. This way, you’ll get more work out of people, encourage retention and boost motivation.

Ultimately if business leaders show they value what matters to each individual, the entire company will benefit from teams with more passion and purpose.

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